Dealzmodo Review: The $300 Sonos Rig

Update: Best Buy is now selling the ZP80 for $200—while supplies last. I love Sonos, the super synced-up wireless music home system, but have always been a little freaked out by the price, about $750 to start, including the increasingly old-school-looking $400 scroll-wheel Controller. When I saw the Sonos iPhone Wi-Fi app—free if you've got an iPhone or iPod touch—I realized that the Controller was finally a thing of the past. Couple the app with a clearance-priced ZP80 ZonePlayer, and you can start your own Sonos rig for $300. After playing around with the latest hardware and software, I can safely say that's a hell of a deal.

I say "you can start" your rig because one of the Sonos' main selling points is its ability to wirelessly coordinate ZonePlayers all throughout the house for flawlessly synced music playback. The idea is that you spend $300 on the ZP80 (or $350 on a ZP90 if you miss out on the clearance inventory) and then later on, when times aren't so tough, you can add more ZonePlayers as you go.

Dealzmodo Review: The $300 Sonos Rig

What's great about the one ZonePlayer is that you immediately get the AirPort Express-like ability to grab music from your Mac or PC, plus the iTunes Remote app's ability to control it from a little handheld, but that's just the beginning. The ZonePlayer comes with the ability to serve up web radio, Rhapsody, Napster, Pandora, Last.fm and Best Buy Music, all without a computer.

In my house, it all plays out rather well:

When my laptop is awake and on the network, the ZonePlayer I have connected directly to my router (via Ethernet) and a stereo system can access all of my non-DRM tracks. I can sort through all those tracks via the Sonos Desktop Controller, which works on both Macs and PCs and whose setup was ridiculously easy.

Dealzmodo Review: The $300 Sonos Rig

But I can walk away from the laptop (leaving it on) and instead pick up an iTouch lying on the coffee table, which lets me view the same exact tracks, and just as fast.

Say I close or power down my laptop, or my wife wants to get on the Sonos while I am away, laptop in tow. There are so many sources of music available via the Sonos Controller app, she may not actually even notice that my vast library is gone. (I could, obviously, load the Sonos control on her laptop so that it would serve her music, too, but based on what I'm telling you, that has so far proven irrelevant.)

My wife loves Fresh Air with Terry Gross. By searching for the show in the Radio section, she can not only find out when it's on next, but can listen to recent shows in full, at a much better sound quality than those damn Audible downloads, for zero money. She can also search for different radio stations and add them to favorites—we have both our favorite NYC and Seattle radio side by side. You can't yet bookmark actual radio shows, a la Fresh Air, in Favorites, but I'm hoping that's something that will be worked out soon.

Dealzmodo Review: The $300 Sonos Rig

You probably now that Sonos offers free 30-day no-credit-card-required trials of Rhapsody, Napster and Sirius—the key, I think, is to try all three in a row, giving you basically 60 days of free on-demand music sampling, and a month of decent satellite radio, before you choose one, if any.

Controlling the system over Wi-Fi is easy, too. You kinda have to get used to the queue concept that goes back to desktop music jukeboxes of olde—once you add songs to the queue, they're there until you clear them, even after they've played. But you can add many songs and radio shows of differing sources to the same queue, making for a highly programmable audio experience: I can listen to the new-ish Coldplay, followed by Terry Gross's interview with Seth Meyers, followed by a classic mix playlist I devised in iTunes (automatically recognized by Sonos), all queued up in just a few minutes. The volume control is funny—on the iTouch, you have to tap to the left or right of the slider to make it go up or down, but once I figured that out, it was smooth sailing.

Dealzmodo Review: The $300 Sonos Rig

After the super-syncability and the multiple sources of music, the third best thing about Sonos is the fact that it is constantly being upgraded. So even though there are some technical advantages to the newer hardware (wireless-N is the big one), the basic functionality is the same, meaning buying at clearance shouldn't be a problem.

What don't I like? I feel like this new setup has answered my biggest historical gripes with the system; though it would be nice for it to play iTunes DRM tracks, and it would be convenient for the first ZonePlayer to connect wirelessly and not via hard Ethernet (it does this so that it can create its own super-stable Wi-Fi network), the thing is getting better and cheaper at the same time—$300 for clearance ZP80s, potentially even less on eBay. If that isn't good news in these troubled times, I don't know what is. [Sonos]

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